The Queen's Nursing Institute

The Queen's Nursing Institute works with the public, nurses and decision-makers to make sure that good quality nursing is available at home for everyone when they need it.

Healthcare at home

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Creative Writing in End-of-Life Care

Bernadette Higgins

Bernadette writes, 'In 2008 I was awarded a QNI Award to use creative writing as a therapeutic tool in palliative (end of life) care.'

'The aims of my project were to implement creative writing sessions for patients as a form of stress management and source of enjoyment for patients; to enhance the quality of life remaining to patients, and to encourage their self esteem.

'All the writing exercises were carefully chosen to nurture their imaginations and writing skills, without inducing negative feelings.  All the participants were keen to write, after attending a ‘taster session.’ While doing the exercises the group gelled and acted as a strong support for each other; as fellow sufferers they helped each other through the shared painful journey of illness.

'The women expressed a lack of concentration as a very irritating side effect of illness: the overwhelming of thought processes when engulfed with a diagnosis of cancer. They all said the writing exercises focused their thoughts. Throughout the course they took great pleasure in surprising themselves: ‘Where do these ideas come from?’ 'It just flows.’

'We decided we would produce a small pamphlet of their work. The group were very enthusiastic about this enterprise and all participated. The completed work was produced and printed in a small booklet. The Hospice Therapist arranged a launch celebratory event. Family and friends were invited, and the women were invited to read out their work.

'The work included in the booklet is about these women, their families, their lives. They are imaginative and funny and are pieces to be proud of. Most are small cameos in prose or poetry form. The booklet publication went a little way in answering a common request from all the participants – their hope ‘To leave something for loved one.’  

'The success of the project led to on-going sessions at the Hospice.' 

Sue Spencer

Sue Spencer is another nurse who undertook a creative writing project, though this was not one funded by the QNI. Sue writes, 'In 1996 I started my research for a PhD. The research explored the experiences of people with diabetes when attending the diabetes clinic and asked them to talk about their interactions with health care practitioners.

'I interviewed 6 people 3 times each over 18 months and learnt a great deal about how clinic attendance became an intrusion in their life and how “getting on with it” and coping were interrupted by unwelcome and unhelpful interventions at the clinic. What might seem a benign experience was seen as diminishing their confidence and undermining their ability to get on with life.

'In 2004 I finally gave up trying to write up the thesis and in an attempt to overcome my frustrations and sadness of giving up my project, I began to write poems derived from the data. I have disseminated the poems to as many people as I could, including the people I interviewed for my research and any unsuspecting health care practitioners I meet. Feedback from the research participants and health care practitioners suggested that the poems add new insight and depth, and that it would be great to get as many people as possible to read and respond to them – hence their inclusion here.

'After this initial foray into poetry I have further developed my knowledge and skills successfully completing the MA in Creative Writing in Poetry at Newcastle University. I have also am committed to writing about how poetry can inform nursing practice and also how reading and writing poetry can enhance well-being and self-awareness. As part of the wish to disseminate this work and bring poetry to a wider audience I wanted to find further outlets for the poetry and also stimulate some discussion around the role of creativity and the creative arts within nursing practice.'

Sue would welcome any response to these poems and news of other arts projects that inform nursing practice. You can email her at: .



Transition to Community

Homeless Health

Nursing Heritage Calendar

Nursing Heritage Calendar